The Philadelphia Eagles lost an MVP front-runner to a season ending knee injury and somehow pulled together for a successful Super Bowl run. How does that sort of phenomenon happen? There’s a reason why they didn’t fold and it’s not magic. Every good team has checks and balances that help them overcome obstacles along the way. All teams are talented but not all teams piece together the right talent in terms of both players and coaches.
There are plenty of teams that can say they have a top-15 quarterback, or a household name head coach, or a top-10 defense. There aren’t many teams that have the right combination of factors to make their franchise a legit threat. Let’s take a look at three important factors that always make up a championship team, how last season’s champions, the Philadelphia Eagles have exemplified them, and how the Jets can emulate a similar strategy.
Team Depth & Balance
It’s a well known fact that most championship teams are usually pretty deep. Every team goes through injuries and you need depth to overcome that. Just as importantly, however, you need to have balance on your roster. The Eagles not only lost their star quarterback, they also lost their star left tackle, Jason Peters, in week 7. The Eagles’ depth was tested at QB and offensive line and backups Nick Foles and Halapoulivaati Vaitai performed well above expectations. That spoke volumes to their team depth.
In terms of balance, as impressive as the Eagles’ offense was, their defense was even better. They finished with the best run defense in the NFL. A closer look shows that both sides of the ball are full successful draft picks and shrewd free agent acquisitions and trades. On defense, in the last four years, they’ve added key veterans like Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, Ronald Darby and Nigel Bradham to homegrown talent like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, and newly drafted Derek Barnett. On offense, they’ve added Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount, and Jay Ajayi, to homegrown players like Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement, Zach Ertz, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and of course Carson Wentz. Other than Wentz, none of these were really huge splashes.
The Eagles kept their team balanced by making sound roster decisions on both sides of the ball and retaining productive talent. When you talk about talented rosters in the NFL, though, the Eagles aren’t the first team to come to mind. Other than Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffrey, they didn’t really make any huge splash signings or draft picks the last four years. But the evidence is in the results. Most team’s crumble without their star player but the Eagles had a much stronger foundation than many believed.
The Jets currently do not have a deep roster at all. In order to build their team depth, the Jets need to be successful in free agency and particularly in the draft. They currently have the second most salary cap money to spend in the NFL. They also have 3 draft picks in the top 50. If they manage to add at least 5 starting caliber players between both free agency and the draft this offseason, they’ll start looking much more formidable. In the process of that, they also need to make significant upgrades at QB, OLB, and CB. Part of their issues in the recent past has been spending premium draft picks/money on non-premium positions. They can’t afford that kind of approach. There needs to be a more balanced distribution of talent of their roster.
Strong Coaching Staff
A strong coaching staff usually leads to a more prepared team, regardless of talent. It’s commonly said that you know you have a solid coaching staff if the assistants are generating interest. That could be said of Andy Reid’s coaching staff from 2013-2015 when Doug Pederson was his offensive coordinator. And the same could now be said of Doug Pederson’s 2017-18 staff.
Last offseason, the Eagles blocked interviews for quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in a desperate attempt to keep him in Philadelphia. What DeFilippo then did this past season was magnificent. DeFilippo helped Carson Wentz make a massive leap from promising young QB to MVP candidate. But that wasn’t it. After, Wentz got hurt in stepped Nick Foles, who hadn’t played significant football since some very low times in 2015 with the St. Louis Rams. What we saw was Foles get better and better each week leading up to the pinnacle of NFL competition in the Super Bowl where he looked as good as he’s ever looked in his career. You have to give some credit to DeFilippo for how quickly and seamlessly Foles was able to step in and not be burden. DeFilippo recently left for a promotion with the Vikings as offensive coordinator.
A coach much less talked about is RB’s coach Duce Staley. The Eagles had the 4th best rushing offense in the NFL. Much of that was due to the three headed monster they have in the backfield. Blount, Ajayi, and Clement combined for nearly 1500 rushing yards in the regular season. Staley’s finest work has probably been with Corey Clement. Clement was an undrafted free agent but has now worked his way into the regular rotation at RB. That development is definitely a badge on Staley’s resume. The Eagles rewarded him in kind. Staley just added assistant head coach to his title.
In terms of the Jets coaching staff, concerns about Todd Bowles may start to get much less attention because of the changes made to his staff. Current offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has been a growingly popular name. The Jets were apparently very high on him internally which led to the promotion. For the most part, Bates is largely unproven. But if the Jets’ offense flips the switch next season, he could be the most interesting coach in NY.
Beyond Bates, another assistants to keep an eye is defensive back coach Dennard Wilson. After a decent start with rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in his first season, the Jets will hopefully make a significant investment at cornerback this offseason and give Wilson a chance to really show what he’s capable of.
“Veteran leadership” and “character guys” are classic NFL cliches that have beaten into the ground. However, developing team chemistry is a legitimate social experiment and you have to get the right combination. We spoke earlier about the type of additions the Eagles made in free agency and by trade the last four years. Many of those additions were a largely positive impact on the team culture.
Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, Lagarrette Blount, and Torrey Smith were all Super Bowl champions before they got to Philadelphia (Blount twice before LII). Adding players that know what it takes to be at the top, elevates the standard of work ethic on a team. The Eagles also added Alshon Jeffrey on a one year prove it contract, and he played as motivated and dominant as he ever has.
On top of that, the Eagles managed to hold together most of their drafted talent. Leaders like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Jason Kelce (who we’ve all been inspired by at this points) were all retained after their first contracts and proved to be a solid culture core to build upon. Overall, whether it’s the coordinated celebrations or the togetherness through the social justice protests, it’s clear the Eagles were close knit. That makes it easy to get the best out of your players and adds extra motivation when adversity strikes.
In terms of culture, the Jets seem to be on the right track. However, it’s not clear if the Jets really have an identity on either side of the ball. We all knew what the effect of drafting Jamal Adams would be to their locker room and he sure hasn’t disappointed by all accounts. In addition, free agent signings Jermaine Kearse (Super Bowl winner), Demario Davis, and Josh McCown turned out relatively positive. They all seemed to instantly step into leadership roles last season and the Jets would be wise to at least weigh bringing them back for continuity. Over everything, the end game has to be to develop a winning culture and not just a feel good one.
Sustainable success is all about building smart, not always fast. The Jets are committed to spend this offseason but they need to be methodical and make sure the puzzle pieces fit. It may be premature to expect them to immediately contend next year. But the hope is that the foundation to a potential future championship team can be established.
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